Friday, May 04, 2007

American Byways, Highways and Crossways -- The Freestyle Entry

I am at a loss for what to write right now. Not so much because my vision or imagination has stalled but because I am embarking on teacher pre-training and graduate school. As I communicate with my new classmates and colleagues, I am super aware of my life experiences. Mind you, some of this is good baggage. I have stories from other places, great skill sets that I would like to expand, mistakes I have learned from and wonderful friends and relationships. But I can't help but feel cynical about the next 2 years and the process I am going through. I am constantly comparing things to Stuttgart, Nashville, or Cologne. I wish I could talk to someone and not think: "Our social system has too many wholes in it concerning retirement and health insurance?"; or,” Why is education so politically charged in the United States?"; or, better yet "Why do we spend so much time explaining Black people to White people? Are they that unconscious of the world around them? Aren’t there better things I could be doing with my time? Why is it always my responsibility to explain these things? Damn! It has been 400 years and people seem not to get it yet? Am I still responsible for White people's progress?" Evidently, after watching the Republican debate, I still am.

So, I feel a little mixed up. On one hand I feel happy that health insurance and a pension check I can actually see is coming down the pipeline. On the other hand, I feel like I am settling into a profession where the barefoot party monger side of me will have to sit still as I make my way into the community as a teacher. I must admit that people have shown some sort of respect towards me that was lacking when I was managing inventory for a publishing company, or when I was even teaching university. I would explain my ideas about the Creole world and people would immediately say, "What are you going to do with that?" But now I seem visible to everyone as a black man that is a teacher in our community. And with that comes all the race pride and preacher complex salutations that make me feel a bit asthmatic. I am not worried about the teaching part; I have that down packed after four years. I am worried about the family reunion, Christmas, the barbershop and my gym in mid-town where I am forced into a wool, double breasted, black pin stripped suit of African-American normative behavior where rice and peas with coconut milk and steak au poivre become either exotic or the signifier of an uppity Negro.

Whew, I need some water on my face.

For example, I talked to my friend Kurt last night. I was busy typing on myspace with all my crazy cats and cool babes when a message came up from him at 1:57 am that I should give him a call. My self proclaimed “project” before bedtime was a meme sent by a barefoot stomping party gal/church worker who was run out of New Orleans by Katrina and is busy making a life for herself in S.C. I decided I could not send it to everyone on my list because many of the people were professional colleagues and I did not want them to know such private things about my life; and, because many people were friends, but they used their myspace as a promotional tool and I did not want to interrupt anyone’s vibe with what I sometimes think to be childish. But, hey I still want to party.

Kurt is now a famous lyrist and producer with work on a Jennifer Lopez album, many European hits and trips to Norway for house and electronic music stuff. But ten years ago, we were just 23 or 24, traveling between Rutgers and New York City and all points in between just to finally settle in Harlem. Kurt and I learned from a friend I will call the Mighty O everything about ball culture, clubbing, orishas and uptown institutions (like Ralph Ellington’s address). We were the Mighty O's acolytes and he was the bestower of our most piercing criticisms; divinator of our most unattended and deepest feelings; and, our truest benefactor with a wealth of uplifting heart felt words for our battered self-esteem after being dogged by the music and publishing worlds. The Mighty O took us to the Octagon and Sound Factory Bar like they were weekly temples in the summer. The Mighty O cooked cornbread and greens in his kitchen. The Mighty O strolled with us through Harlem, Mid-town, Chinatown, The Cloisters, Washington Heights, Columbia and Times Square like we were out bird watching or shopping for a new blade for the lawnmower on Main Street. For Kurt and I, The Mighty O was our greatest wish in the flesh, a guide through the looking glass and into the New York we were searching for but could not find without his special key.

Kurt and I talked about that decadent afterlife in quick flashes of disjointed memories. The majority of the discussion was the demise of The Mighty O, a fall that wrecked havoc on all who knew him. It was a string of other late night sentences and conjuring. But, the mourning tone was there, The Mighty O's misfortunes piled up so quickly and astonishingly that no one had time to act. His heartache was maddening. His manipulation was maniacal. The volleys of insults and control were terrorizing. All of it disguised in terms like "pouring tea", "throwing shade" and "trade". All of his towers seemed to fall after 9-11 and Kurt witnessed it and I did not. I was far away. The conversation soon turned to us, those that are left. Kurt and I were thinking about the young boys we were 10 years ago, and the parts of us that wanted that back.

"Who was I? Who was that kid?" said Kurt.

"I don't know? But there was nothing wrong with you then." thought the Unbeached Whale.

I just stayed silent as I let Kurt talk about that party time.

I guess I am busy writing about that conversation because as I sent my meme out via e-mail to those select few (cause I did not want to bother anyone else with what I was feeling) talking to Kurt made me realize that not only is New York not the same anymore, but neither am I. And, that “summer of '97 and ‘98” guy is gone, smashed up into a million carbon atoms that only live in my brain; or, maybe he is all dead skin devoured at night by small mites; or, maybe he is a broken toenail at the bottom of a pool on the mezzanine level of an Atlanta high-rise hotel. But, in the meantime, this same Unbeached Whale is wondering when he will get a chance to dance and party like that again. Is the party really over? Is New York really dead? Or, is it just me, scared to jump into the deep water? Party life is a hard thing, even if you are there only for the music. The Mighty O is not the only person we have lost.


Professor Zero said...

I hereby tag you for the Great Imperative Meme! Philp, who started it, explains:

John K said...

I ask this question all the time, is the party over in New York, or rather, has it changed so objectively that the world that existed pre-2001 is irrevocably gone, and will it now subsist mainly on the last, lingering embers of those days? I also at the same time question whether I am not being indulgently romantic and nostalgic, and not in an enabling way, about the changes that have occurred. Is it my vantage point, my age, a lack of perspective, that makes me feel this way? I just don't know.